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When Dickens met Dostoyevsky–a tale of stalking and multiple identities

April 15, 2013

It is all a giant bizarre tale unwound by UC Berkeley’s Eric Naiman.  I find myself unable to describe or even to paraphrase it, except to say that it begins with an account of when Dickens met Dostoyevsky, and then takes a turn for the weird.

It is, perhaps, the oddest and even the most salacious thing printed in Times Literary Supplement in some time.

Link here.

(10 July 2013:  Update here)

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6 Comments
  1. April 16, 2013 7:32 am

    Right, if it weren’t for your blogpost here, in first reading Naiman’s article beginning naturally with its title, I would have felt a little betrayed as a reader. Clearly, Naiman along with many readers of this “giant bizarre tale” felt more betrayed. Is that the rhetorical effect he was going for with his article?

    I notice you tag both “A. D. Harvey” and “Stephanie Harvey.” 🙂

    It isn’t clear why Dickens would have opened up to his Russian colleague in this manner, and even if he had wanted to, in what language would the two men have conversed? (It could only have been French, which should lead one to wonder about the eloquence of a remembered remark filtered through two foreign tongues.)

    Harvey purports to have translated the found letter? Not wanting to spoil Naiman’s telling of the tale, this story has been going on for months. Nearly a year ago, the blogger literalab observed:

    On the front page of their website The Dickensian has issued a caution about the account of the meeting, pointing out the fact that no one has been able to locate the original letter nor the journal it was supposedly published in. Oddly, the letter isn’t included in any of the writer’s complete correspondence.

    Translation, what it seems to lose, and just tales of translation always can thicken the plot.

  2. April 16, 2013 1:05 pm

    I think he had a different rhetorical effect in mind. It is true that it is set up a bit as a trick on the reader, but that is as much TLS‘s doing as Naiman (using the photo!) Here is what I think Naiman was doing:

    Naiman mentions in the essay that moonlighting from my teaching of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, I had been putting together a new seminar on campus fictions. This particular story appears to be his own contribution to that genre (although it is non-fiction). Typical campus fictions often portray a certain level of sexiness or glamor to the academic life, even if that sexiness or glamor is ironic. Think about David Lodge’s Small World. This work, then, is a sort of an anti-campus fiction (or maybe a campus anti-fiction).

  3. April 16, 2013 10:11 pm

    The tale of two Harveys is way more interesting than the question of whether Dickens and Dostoyevsky ever met — at least to me.

  4. April 18, 2013 12:22 am

    Nina, I am so glad you found it interesting. I think that Naiman had a great deal of fun (and quite a bit of frustration) writing the essay.

  5. A.D.Harvey permalink
    April 23, 2013 8:13 am

    Nzumel: if you’re serious about the two Harveys being more interesting than whether Dickens and Dostoevsky ever met, then you would probably want to know that amongst the four pseudonyms Naiman ought to have discovered but didn’t there’s another Harvey, who in fact has/had a pivotal role in the saga.Also, my pseudonymous non-fiction represents only about 2% of my published non-fiction, so even if I am not really a (very) serious writer I am nonetheless someone ultra-serious scholarly editors take seriously.(But then of course people with any real sense don’t stay in academe.)
    The reason I’m wasting time posting this is that a) I am at Britain’s National Archives, trying to digest their loathsome lunch before going home, having just made a digital image of the British government’s file on Nabokov’s Lolita, which I shall send to Naiman to annoy him in a couple of days’ time (our only contact so far is the e-mail exchange he records), and b) your photograph.
    deputy@the-tls.co.uk will confirm the email address I have given to log in —- that’s The Times Literary Supplement —- and I hope forward any response

  6. April 23, 2013 7:31 pm

    And with that last comment, I will close further comments on this post.

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